The Cutthroat Slam

by Kirk Deeter Lovers of trout fishing might want to add the "Wyoming Cutt-Slam" to their lists of life goals. The challenge: Catch each of four subspecies of cutthroat trout (Yellowstone, Snake River, Bonneville, and Colorado River) in their native river habitats.Field & Stream Online Editors
The best starting point for slam seekers is the Wyoming Range, a spiny north-south ridge that flanks the western edge of the state. Almost literally overshadowed by the Wind River Range to the east and the Tetons and Gros Ventre Ranges to the north, the Wyoming Range is known for prolific herds of mule deer and elk, as well as moose, and you can find three of the four cutthroat subspecies (all but Yellowstone) here.Field & Stream Online Editors
To clearly illustrate how drilling operations have started to impact the range, Reed and Hunt led us to this newly constructed drilling pad (we drove in on a roadway that had been expanded for truck traffic). The pad is literally close enough to Fish Creek that we could have cast from it into the stream below. We didn't, of course, instead opting to move about a mile upstream, where we caught our first species of the cutt-slam, the Colorado River cutthroat ... on a yellow humpy dry fly.Field & Stream Online Editors
Charlie Meyers of the Denver Post and I recently drove from Colorado to visit the Wyoming Range as guests of Trout Unlimited. Our hosts, Tom Reed and Chris Hunt, pointed out that TU is now part of the Sportsmen for the Wyoming Range coalition (www.wyomingrangesportsmen.org), which is hoping to preserve the public lands of the range from further gas and oil drilling that threatens both hunting and fishing habitat. The coalition has garnered the support and involvement of a wide array of groups, from Wyoming Outfitters & Guides, to the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, to the Wyoming Game Wardens Association, to the National Outdoor Leadership School. The group is hoping to buy back leases used by gas companies to drill on public land. Said Reed: "There is a reasonable win-win solution. This is an environmental issue, but in this case, the effort is being led by sportsmen (and women) who want to preserve a unique hunting and fishing resource."Field & Stream Online Editors
The Tri-Basin Divide in the Wyoming Range is a unique natural landmark in that it delineates the drainages of three major river systems that ultimately empty into waters thousands of miles apart: The Colorado River system, which empties into the Gulf of California; the Snake River System which empties into the Columbia and ultimately the Pacific Ocean, and the Bear River System, which empties into the Great Salt Lake. (An interesting aside; the Bear is the longest river system in the western hemisphere that does not terminate in an ocean). Each system contains its own strain of cutthroat trout, and here they are (almost) within hiking distance of one another.Field & Stream Online Editors
Labarge Creek, near the top of the divide, was recently the focus of a major Colorado cutthroat reintroduction project by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Non-native species (brook and brown trout) were removed from the creek, and Colorado strain cutts were then reintroduced above a fish barrier. By next summer, the fingerlings will reach a size to make Labarge a classic mountain cutthroat fishery, offering dozens of river miles for public access.Field & Stream Online Editors
The Grey's River also pours from the Tri-Basin Divide, on a northerly path to its confluence with the Snake River on the Wyoming side of the Wyoming-Idaho border. Not far from the headwaters, the river begins to braid and tumble on a gradual gradient. We found Snake River cutts eager to gulp dry flies like PMDs, Adams Parachutes, and terrestrial patterns in the pools under riffles, and along undercut banks. The average trout was about 10 inches long, but it is possible to hook 18-inchers or larger here. Landing them in the brushy creek is a challenge in its own right.Field & Stream Online Editors
The Grey's River may be one of the best-kept secrets for many anglers in this part of the West. Offering roughly 50 miles of public access, its upper stretches are classic 3-weight, dry fly water, with plenty of cover and twisting runs. In the middle, it often flattens over washboard riffles; here, fish collect in tail-outs and pools. The lower section of the river can be floated by raft or dory in high flows, though, as we learned, it can be turned "off" by heavy rains that discolor the water.Field & Stream Online Editors
The following day, we beat a path over the Wyoming Range to the Smith's Fork in search of the third piece of the cutt-slam puzzle, the Bonneville (Bear River) strain cutthroat trout. Bonnevilles soon became my favorites of the bunch. Aside from their beautiful colorations, they are voracious predators and fighters. The largest Bonnevilles have evolved through the years to assume highly migratory (almost steelhead-like) traits, running high into the mountains to spawn in small creeks during high water (June), and then chugging downstream many miles to gorge on baitfish in lakes and sloughs. Bonnevilles can top 20 inches, and if you find them in the right place at the right time (namely, in small creeks), they can be one of the most exciting trout species to chase on the fly.Field & Stream Online Editors
On the Smiths Fork, we found a few good pockets of Bonnevilles in the 15-inch and under range. Warren Colyer, who heads TU's Bear River cutthroat restoration efforts, explained that the largest fish are migratory. This one is right on the border, size-wise, between a resident population that will stay in the mountains, and the population that pushes downstream. It ate a green chenille Joe's Hopper.Charlie Meyers
Charlie and I couldn't help ourselves... we eagerly accepted an invitation from TU Idaho's Matt Woodard to stay an extra day and ride along in his dory for a float on the South Fork (Snake). As it was a Sunday, we opted to skip the "boat hatch" and float downstream, from Byington to Lorenzo (in Idaho). It was hot, windy, and eventually stormy, but we coaxed a number of good dry fly takes with Rainey's hoppers. In addition to several stout browns and cutt-bows, we even managed to land a few nice Snake and Yellowstone cutts. With the Yellowstone in the net, we almost rounded out the slam. We caught all four species, but counting a Yellowstone trout from the South Fork would have been cheating.Field & Stream Online Editors
A real cutt-slam requires you to catch each of the four subspecies in its native watershed. So to do it right, we would have had to visit Yellowstone Park nearby to claim a true Yellowstone. If, however, you do catch all four in the right places, get a photo of yourselves with these fish, and send your information off to Wyoming Game and Fish, they'll send you a certificate. As of now, fewer than 500 anglers have officially been awarded the official Wyoming "Cutt-Slam." See www.cuttslam.com for details.Courtesy of Wyoming Game & Fish
One final word of warning: This is serious mountain fishing. There are roads to get you to the river, but this isn't your average ride in the country. Our group, for example, experienced seven flat tires (on different vehicles); we were caught in storms, and some of us got stuck behind a landslide. It all worked out. But you should have a backup plan and the right gear. Done right, this kind of trout trip -- where the only rainbow you see is the one overhead -" can be a once-in a lifetime angling adventure.Field & Stream Online Editors